CINCINNATI - The NFL dropped George Iloka's one-game suspension on appeal and issued a $35,464 fine instead for an illegal hit in Monday night's game against the Steelers, the league announced Wednesday.
Iloka's successful appeal saved him $77,000 and keeps him in the lineup for Sunday's game against the Bears. A one-game suspension would have cost the Bengals safety $112,500 (1/16th of his $1.8 million salary).
Iloka's agent thanked the appeals officer, former All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks, for ruling in Iloka's favor. The league had cited Iloka Tuesday for spearing Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in the head after a TD catch.
"While we still believe George did nothing wrong on the play and the helmet-to-helmet contact was the result of Antonio Brown lowering his head as he braced for contact, we felt and argued that a suspension was particularly egregious," agent Ron Slavin said.
Statement from George Iloka’s agent Ron Slavin following the reduction of his client’s suspension from a suspension to a fine. pic.twitter.com/KxkRwe9gP1
Iloka said after the game that he didn't intentionally hit Brown in the head after the TD catch that tied the game 20-20 and was the second-last blow in another Bengals' collapse to the Steelers.
"I was just trying to jar it out of there," Iloka said, according to Bengals.com. "There wasn’t anything to it. They threw the ball, saw the corner right behind him, you’re just trying to get the ball out … I was just trying to jar out the ball the best I can. Stuff happens fast. That’s all I was trying to do.”
The NFL also gave Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster a one-game suspension Tuesday for his crack-back block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Smith-Schuster's appeal was denied by James Thrash, former NFL wide receiver. The NFL didn't say why, but it's probably because Smith-Schuster stood over Burfict and taunted him after laying him out.
READ the NFL's Tuesday statement below:
JuJu Smith-Schuster & George Iloka Suspended One Game Each For Violations Of Safety-Related Playing Rules https://t.co/IEO3qkD8Jf
According to the NFL's statement, VP of Football Operations Jon Runyan suspended Iloka for forcibly hitting a defenseless player's neck or head area with the helmet, facemask, forearm or shoulder (Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7).
Runyan said this to Iloka:
"You violently struck a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area. The Competition Committee has clearly expressed its goal of 'eliminating flagrant hits that have no place in our game' and has encouraged the League office to suspend offenders for egregious violations such as the one you committed last night."
Runyan said he suspended Smith-Schuster for unnecessary contact against a player in a defenseless posture (Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7) and for unsportsmanlike conduct (Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1).
In notifying Smith-Schuster, Runyan called his hit "dangerous" and added:
"On a passing play to a running back you lined up as a defender and delivered a violent and unnecessary blindside shot to his head and neck area. You then 'celebrated' the play by standing over him and taunting him. The contact ... placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury and could have been avoided. Your conduct following the hit fell far below the standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player."
The game officials threw penalty flags on both plays, but neither Iloka not Smith-Schuster was ejected during the Bengals' 23-20 loss.
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell defended Iloka and Smith-Schuster in a tweet:
SteelerNation @George_iloka is a good friend. Weve spent many summers training together. HES NOT A DIRTY PLAYER. He’s a Standup guy just a hard nosed no bs player. In no way was he tryna hurt AB just like I know @TeamJuJu wasn’t trying to hurt #55. Football is violent! #Facts